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Senate panel OKs 3 housing measures

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Hawaii could see more micro apartments, housing for seniors, and rental properties if bills that lawmakers approved in committee Wednesday become law.

Senate Bill 2442 would provide $100 million to the state’s Rental Housing Trust Fund, providing money for construction of more than 580 micro apartments and affordable rental units for low-wage workers and seniors, according to testimony from the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

The bill mentions a 2011 Center for Housing Policy report that found Hono­lulu tied as the least affordable city in the country for renters. It also says high housing prices contribute to Hawaii’s high rate of homelessness.

No state has more homeless people per capita than Hawaii, according to the Homelessness Research Institute.

Another bill, SB 2267, would put $15.8 million toward building micro apartments. Those units are defined as being at least 220 square feet in area, with a separate closet and bathroom, and a kitchen sink, cooking appliance and refrigerator. They cost an average of $150,000 apiece to build, half of what average rental units cost, the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism said in written testimony in support of the bill.

The Hawaii Public Housing Authority would receive $60 million to build a housing complex just for seniors if another bill, SB 2541, passes. Such a public housing complex would be the first of its kind in the state.

Other bills the Senate Means and Ways Committee considered, but deferred, would expand housing programs for homeless people and prevent shelters from compelling homeless people to buy food there in exchange for services.

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